Hariri says he will return to Lebanon 'soon', but offers no date

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Lebanon's Hariri speaks on Al-Mustaqbal television station from Saudi Arabian capital

Lebanese watch interview with Lebanon's resigned prime minister Saad Hariri at coffee shop in Beirut late Sunday (AFP)
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Tuesday 14 November 2017 14:42 UTC
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Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri, who announced his surprise resignation on 4 November from Saudi Arabia and who has not returned to Lebanon since, was interviewed on Sunday evening by the Al-Mustaqbal television station. He said he will return to Lebanon "soon", but offered no specific date.

The interview took place in Riyadh amid speculation that Hariri, 47, was forced to resign by Saudi Arabia and that he is being held in the country against his will. In his announcement last week, Hariri accused Iran and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah of taking over Lebanon and destabilising the broader region, saying he feared for his life.

Hariri's resignation, which caught even his close aides by surprise, has plunged Lebanon into crisis. It has thrust the country back to the forefront of a power struggle between Saudi Arabia and Iran - a rivalry that has wrought upheaval in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Bahrain.

He began the TV interview with the same messages that he had conveyed in his televised resignation speech, which made reference to the involvement of Iran and the Hezbollah organisation in his country. "I will return to Lebanon very soon," Hariri said, adding later that he would land in Beirut "in two or three days".

Hariri denied in the interview that he is being held against his will in Saudi Arabia, saying that he was there to serve Lebanon's interests, to protect the country from Iran and Hezbollah, who he said are trying to take over Lebanon.

"We cannot continue in Lebanon in a situation where Iran interferes in all Arab countries, and that there's a political faction that interferes alongside it," he repeated on Sunday in apparent reference to Hezbollah.

"Maybe there's a regional conflict between Arab countries and Iran. We're a small country. Why put ourselves in the middle?"

Wearing a suit and tie and with a Lebanese flag in the background, Hariri looked tired and spoke softly but firmly throughout the interview.

Hariri told journalist Paula Yacoubian that he wrote his resignation himself and wanted to submit it in Lebanon, "but there was danger".

He also appeared to lay down an exit strategy, saying he would be willing to "rescind the resignation" if intervention in regional conflicts by Iran and Hezbollah stopped.

According to the TV station, which Hariri owns, the interview was conducted from his home in Riyadh. He has dual Lebanese-Saudi citizenship.

Lebanese President Michel Aoun has yet to formally accept Hariri's resignation and has said he wants to meet him in person to discuss the situation.

Just hours before Hariri's interview on Sunday, Aoun blasted the "obscure circumstances" around the resigned prime minister's stay in Riyadh.

In a statement from his office, Aoun said: "Hariri's freedom has been restricted and conditions have been imposed regarding his residence and the contacts he may have, even with members of his family."

Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah said on Friday that Hariri was "detained in Saudi Arabia" and "banned from returning to Lebanon".